Hideyoshi – the Second Great Unifier – Invades Korea
After Nobunaga died (betrayed by Mitsuhide) Hideyoshi inherited his empire. After a few more wars, in Kyushu, and against the Hojo and northern territories; Hideyoshi finally unified the country in 1590.
Now that the wars were over, his loyal samurai expected their due rewards – money and lands. His best option was to invade China, and once defeated he would be able to grant his men their rewards (and avoid rebellious outbreaks at home).
Hideyoshi planned to send his army through Korea to invade China, however the Koreans refused him access (they were a tributary state of China). In 1,592 Hideyoshi invaded Korea (the Imjin wars). At first the Japanese were successful, they landed 150,000 soldiers in Korea in three vanguards. They also had prepared an additional 250,000 soldiers in Japan as a reserve.
The State Of Korea and China
Korea was completely unprepared for the Japanese invasion and begged China for assistance, however Ming China was extremely weak at the time; there were dozens of revolts in China; soldiers weren’t paid, corrupt generals ran the country and there were thousands of desertions. The Jurchins easily conquered much of China’s northern territories with a mere force of 60,000.
*In fact China was so weak at this time that the Spanish governor in the Philippines repeatedly asked the king of Spain for permission to invade China – However the king was too busy expanding his empire in the America’s and attending to European Wars. (During this time Spain was the most powerful country in Europe).Eventually a large Chinese army was dispatched to Korea but they were unable to dislodge the Japanese from their fortresses and entrenched positions.
Why the Japanese Lost In Korea?
The best generals throughout history not only incorporated great military strategies and tactics, had well trained and disciplined forces at their disposal, but were also masters of military logistics — the supply and maintenance of their troops. The Japanese were unable to supply their troops with food, weapons and ammunition. This was due to the success of the Korean Navy, in particular one man – Admiral Yi Sun Shin. Some historians dismiss Admiral Shin’s major achievements, however Admiral Togo, the person who led the Japanese Navy to victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) when compared to admiral Yi Sun Shin, publicly stated he was far from Admiral Shin’s abilities.
Admiral Yi Sun Shin – Savior of Korea
The leader of the Korean Navy was responsible for the breaking the Japanese supply line. He engaged the Japanese Navy in 23 sea battles and won each one. In the battle of “Myeongnyang” his most decisive naval victory, he attacked the Japanese Navy with only 13 of his remaining ships against a Japanese force of 133 ships. He destroyed and/or sank 123 Japanese ships.
Without the blockade of the Korean Navy, the Japanese could have probably conquered Korea and marched into China. Today Yi Sun Shin is considered the George Washington of Korea and was among the greatest naval commanders in history. If you are in Seoul you can see his statue downtown in the Gwanghwamun Plaza.
Hideyoshi Invades Korea a Second Time
In 1597 Hideyoshi launched a second invasion and sent a force of 100,000 troops with 1,000 ships. The Japanese again had initial success on land but without a reliable supply chain the second invasion was doomed to failure. In 1598 Hideyoshi died and the Japanese “Council of Five Elders” negotiated with the Koreans and withdrew their forces.
What If the Japanese Had Successfully Conquered China?
If the tables had turned and the Japanese would have invaded China, they might not have kept it new for long. Many past invaders to China such as the Jie, Di, Xianbei, Qiang, Khitan, Mongols, and Jurchen had been absorbed by China because they had been sinicized by the Chinese. Inasmuch as the Japanese admired the Chinese, by this time they had already developed a strong and unique Japanese identity which they would most likely maintain.
Another major difference was the Chinese belief in the “Mandate of Heaven.” This was based on the belief that the emperor must be virtuous to rule? Many Chinese rebellions were launched because the people felt their emperor lost his mandate from heaven. The Japanese would never accept this concept — they believed that the Japanese emperor’s authority was inviolate.
Tokugawa Ieyasu – The Third Great Unifier
After Hideyoushi died, his legitimate son Hideyori became the official heir to the kingdom, however Ieyasu wanted to rule the country and this caused a rift between many powerful daimyo across the country. This resulted in the battle of Sekigahara which Ieyasu won. In 1603 and at 60 years of age Ieyasu became Shogun and sole ruler of Japan. This produced 250 years of peace (I prefer to say, this period produced no wars for 250 years.)
All in all, “Age of the Samurai” is a good show that presents an overview of the Sengoku Jidai. This was a complicated era with over 40 clans vying for power, dozens of wars, territories changing hands and loyalties switching at the drop of a hat.
I disagreed with some of the choices the producers made e.g. focusing on the attack on the Iga stronghold and on Date Masamune – more interesting choices would have been Nobunaga’s march on Kyoto and his attack on mount Hiei against the Ikko Ikki (warrior monks), or even how Hattori Hanzo and the Iga helped Ieyasu escape from Mitsuhide’s clutches.
My Take (Reading the history) Nobunaga did all the heavy lifting, although Hideyoshi and Tokugawa were gifted commanders, without the efforts of Nobunaga, we might have never heard of them.
Resources – Antony Cummins
*Historian Antony Cummins Reviews “Age of the Samurai”
*Historian Antony Cummins discusses Nobunaga’s Attacks on the Iga (Ninja) Stonghold
*Antony Cummins Website